|Burning Question: Should the History of High-Rise Fires Be Ignored?|
|Written by Peter J. Denney|
|Thursday, 02 September 2010 15:01|
Noted author David McCulloch once wrote, “History is a guide to navigation in perilous times.” Indeed, if history is a guide, one can look at high-rise building fires that have occurred in the past to address the issue of building safety. This review includes the fires that the 9/11 Commission concluded caused the collapse of the WTC Twin Towers, and WTC 7, for which officials declared the collapse was due to fires. Two high-rise fires listed below occurred after 9/11 and are especially noteworthy.
The history of high-rise, steel-framed buildings spans only about 100 years. Still, there are a number of very hot, large, and long lasting fires to review. One in particular, the Empire State Building, suffered a severe fire when it was struck by a B-25 bomber. The fire was fueled by high-octane gasoline, when the plane hit the 78th and 79th floors. Here’s a look at some high-rise fires through history, listed chronologically.
A 102-story building. The 79th floor endured most of the impact, but fuel reportedly ran down stairwells as far as the 75th floor. The blaze was extinguished by N.Y. firefighters after about three hours and remained isolated within those floors. Most of the plane’s wreckage remained inside the building. There was no collapse.
A 50-story building. Two people died. Only the top two floors were involved. Still, the fire burned for more than six hours. There was no collapse.
A 110-story building. Twenty-eight firemen were reported injured. The fire began on the 11th floor shortly before midnight, spreading to limited portions of six other floors via electrical wiring and through small openings in floor slabs for telephone cables. The fire burned for approximately three hours. FDNY Captain of Engine Company Six Harold Kull later said, “It was like fighting a blow torch.” There was no collapse. As a result of this fire, sprinkler systems, elevator shaft dampers and electrical system fireproofing were installed in both towers.
A 62-story building. The fire broke out late in the evening starting on the 12th floor. The blaze gutted four floors and damaged a fifth. Due to the combined efforts of 64 fire companies and a total of 383 firefighters and paramedics, the fire was extinguished in three hours and 40 minutes. There was no collapse.
A 38-story building. Three firefighters died and 24 more were injured. Until 9/11, this had been the most devastating fire in U.S. history. This blaze burned for 18 hours and gutted eight floors (the 22nd-29th) before being halted by an upper floor equipped with an automatic sprinkler system. There was no collapse.
A 110-story building. Estimated deaths: 1,344, mostly office workers above the 91st floor. One hundred twenty-one N.Y. firefighters died. At 8:46 a.m. American Airlines Flight 11 struck the northeast side between the 94th and 98th floors. The ensuing fire burned one hour, 42 minutes before being blamed for the total catastrophic building destruction at 10:28 a.m. in about a dozen seconds.
A 110-story building. At 9:03 a.m. United Airlines Flight 175 struck the southwest side at an angle, sending a large fireball and other debris out the southeast and northeast sides of the building. The ensuing fire burned 56 minutes before being blamed for the total catastrophic destruction in about a dozen seconds at 9:59 a.m.
The total number of dead from both attacks range from 2,749 (ABC News) to 2,823 (Wall Street Journal) – including 479 public service workers such as firefighters and police.
A 47-story steel-framed 7 World Trade Center underwent a sudden total collapse. The NIST Final Report blames its collapse on fires initiated by debris from the collapse of nearby WTC North Tower.
A 56-story building. There were no fatalities but 40 firefighters were injured. This fire broke out shortly before midnight on the 34th floor, burned for over 17 hours and spread over 26 floors, reaching the roof. There was no collapse.“Engineers have gone up there and inspected,” Caracas Fire Chief Rodolfo Briceno later said, adding, “It is very solid.”
A 44-story building (photo at head of story). One firefighter died and seven other people were injured, six of them firefighters. The nearly completed hotel was reportedly set ablaze accidentally by fireworks.
The fire burned throughout the night and early morning for approximately 10 hours. Most of the building was gutted but there was no collapse.
Seven of these “non-9/11” building fires burned well beyond three hours over multiple floors – some burned for 10 or more hours. None collapsed. In fact no steel framed high-rise outside the World Trade Center has ever suffered a complete collapse blamed on fire. The WTC North and South Towers’ fires burned for only 60 to 90 minutes. Yet, along with WTC 7, the Twin Towers were completely destroyed – in just seconds.
For a more detailed review of the Twin Towers’ structure, their fires, and the characteristics of its explosive destruction be sure to see the DVD “9/11: Blueprint for Truth – The Architecture of Destruction.” The two-hour Research Edition provides more technical information, context, and background information. The Companion Edition has 10, 30 and 60 minute abridged versions, along with a fascinating series of short WTC physics lessons from high school physics teacher David Chandler.